Late last year, I was selected to the Board of Directors of Society’s Assets, a company that was formed in 1974 in Racine, Wisconsin by and for people with disabilities. The mission of Society’s Assets is “to ensure the rights of all persons with disabilities to live and function as independently as possible in the community of their choice, through supporting individual’s efforts to achieve control over their lives and become integrated into community life.” They are governed and operated by a board and staff comprised of a majority of people with disabilities.
I attended a couple of hours long orientation session for myself and the other new board members late last year. It was very interesting and filled in several gaps in my knowledge about the company. I met the management team and was very impressed with their levels of expertise, their ability to clearly articulate the company’s mission, and mostly with the passion they displayed for their work and their clients.
Then I received in the mail an invitation to a reception to honor the organization’s award winning aides. I figured an award ceremony in one of the company’s conference rooms might be a good opportunity to fill in any blanks I may have still had in my understanding of what this organization is all about. Never mind that I didn’t know a soul there – I put aside my inherent social awkwardness and shy nature and sucked it up for a couple of hours.
And am I glad I did. The people I met were all friendly and personable, unpretentious and real. They made me feel instantly comfortable as I sat with them, the only male in a room full of women, and I helped myself to cake and snacks. During our conversations I learned several important facts about the awards that were being presented, that they were granted by an independent, state wide organization, The Wisconsin Long Term Care Workforce Alliance. In other words, these were much more than employee recognition awards – these awards are given to caregivers from any organization who went above and beyond in meeting the needs of people of all ages with disabilities. The Alliance has been giving these awards since 2005, and every year Society’s Assets has had at least one winner (out of only four state-wide winners). In fact, as I sat there, I met the first two winners, from 2005 and 2006 – how cool is that?
The time for the awards presentation came and we moved to another room, the board room, where this year, with two new award categories having been added, four of the six awards went to caregivers from Society’s Assets. As each award was presented, part of the story behind the nominations was read, and I got an idea for just how special these people and this organization are. As I listened to the stories of personal sacrifice, energy and enthusiasm, passion and commitment, I thought of the recent passing of the great rock and roll icon David Bowie and my favorite Bowie song, “Heroes,” and it occurred to me that’s what each of these and the countless other caregivers out there truly are. Whether it’s running a simple errand or providing intimate personal care, helping those who need help the most and preserving their sense of dignity and self-worth strikes me as the noblest of gestures.
We find ourselves in the beginning of an election year, with the television and radio constantly telling us how divided we’ve become, and how great the distance and irreconcilable the differences between us are. But in the unconditional love and respect they display for their fellow human beings, caregivers shatter these divisions and instead celebrate the core humanity that we all share. They demonstrate through their actions that we’re all in this thing together, and I can’t think of anything more inspirational or heroic.
While I’m still learning exactly what my role as a board member is, I look forward to humbly serving these great people and their indomitable spirit in any way I can.